Come Together

living room lazing smallI recently taught a weekend seminar in the Dallas Fort Worth area. The hosts were great, the venue was nice, and it was a great experience all around. Before the presentations began, someone pulled me aside and asked whether I was aware that there was a contingency of trainers present who were known to use shock collars. During the first morning break, another person posed a similar question. My response to both of them could be best summed up by the not very eloquent, “I don’t know and I don’t care.”

First off, the fact that someone’s training methods are different than mine doesn’t bother me. This is the real world, and guess what, we’re all different in many ways. Does that mean that I advocate using those methods? Nope. It’s no secret that I would best be described as more of a “positive” trainer, whatever that means. (I mean, really, have you ever heard someone call themself a negative trainer?) I don’t use choke chains or shock collars. But as long as someone is not out there abusing dogs (helicoptering, hanging, etc.), they’re more than welcome at my seminars, whether they use those tools or not. (And, I give any host credit for reaching out to a community that might be a bit outside their own.)

Look, judgment is everywhere, and debates about things we’re passionate about are bound to get heated. But I would hazard a guess that the vast majority of us who train dogs are in it because we truly love dogs and want to help them. (It’s surely not a profession one goes into for the money!) I only wish we could treat each other with the same respect we afford dogs, and with the same professionalism with which we treat clients. Of course we’re not going to agree on everything. But snarky comments on Facebook or gossipy comments in person only reflect badly on the person making those comments. It’s easy to sit with a clique of friends and throw verbal stones; it’s harder to open one’s mind and let the negativity go, and possibly learn something.

Fortunately, the folks in the group that attended my seminar were respectful, asked good questions, and made valid, useful comments. I was happy to have them there, along with the rest of the awesome attendees. And I received a few private messages after I’d returned home from some in “that group” thanking me for the seminar. One person said it was appreciated that I didn’t get into the politics of dog training. (Actually tools didn’t even come up since the topics were separation anxiety and dog-dog play.) It was nice, positive feedback that confirmed that being negative and judgmental does nobody any good. Sure, we’re not likely to agree on training methods anytime soon. But couldn’t we start from the common ground that we’re here to help dogs, and be open to discussion, sharing knowledge, and treating each other respectfully? Come on, people, come together!

23 Responses to Come Together

  1. Dixie Tenny says:

    Thank you for this! I own a business that hosts seminars, and I live in a part of the country awash with force-based trainers. I am thrilled to see them come to my seminars. I want them to hear the speakers I bring to town. I admire and appreciate the fact that they are both open-minded enough to want to attend, and brave enough, knowing that much of the audience considers the way that they train to be abusive. I know very, very few trainers who didn’t start out using force. As Maya Angelou says, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” How will those trainers ever know better until we welcome them to come and hear about our methods of training in an environment that is not hostile to them? That’s how we learned to do better, ourselves.

  2. Well that *was* eloquent. As always.

  3. I agree with you about how we as trainers are not in it for the money. I do hope however that the laws will soon be changed to require new dog owners to take a training class, that would not only help us dog trainers to make a little more cash, but would increase the chances that a dog will remain in a home with a family and not get trucked off to the shelter because of some bad behavior that most people just don’t know how to address. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Sonya says:

    Your blog made me look and ponder on the recent quote I have sitting in my office:

    “When you speak ill of others, you have already exposed your own inner weakness to the world.”

    – Sri Chinmoy –

  5. Very well put and thank you!!! I hate the politics in this business as well as the snooty attitude of some positive reinforcement trainers

  6. Well said Nic! I applaud you for your open mind and open heart. I think especially in a climate of not so positive dog trainers, presenting with no judgements perhaps allows a seed to be planted in the minds of those who would not be so open minded had they been met with hostility and negativity. I think the “planting of seeds” of change is very important work. If one seed sprouts and grows, the fruit will be shared. Keep up the great work.

  7. YES!!
    Whe can not say again and again, that trainers need to continue to educate themselves (especially we say that von trainers who user force…) and then get abusive at them, when they actually try to find out more force free methods!

  8. Sarah Fulcher says:

    Wonderful, thank you Nicole.

  9. Tod McVicker says:

    As a trainer that uses many tools I was pleased to hear this report from my friends who attended.

  10. torontodogtrainingbehaviour says:

    Thanks Nicole – you’re so compassionate and we can all learn from you. I hope you’re doing well! (Caryn, Toronto)

  11. I’m a dog owner (2 Shih Tzu’s) and appreciate your Wilde About Dogs blog. Dogs to me are part of the family and they are treated as such! Training is rewards for positive behaviors and we talk through and work on the not so good behaviors. Believe me, dogs understand and try very hard to do better the next time. I can’t even think about shock or choke collar use for any dog. I use a harness & leash for walking and stay put in the house when workers come in to do repairs and such. I’ve had large German Shepherds in the past and training and harness/leash was the same as the smaller Shih Tzu dogs!

  12. Thank you for this post! One of the hardest thing about this profession for me has been witnessing how poorly some trainers treat others. I have no doubt that our similarities greatly outweigh our differences, but it’s the treatment of our fellow humans where I think we differ the most.

  13. Suzanne Sikora says:

    The dog on the right in the picture featured is identical to my dog. Any idea if it is a specific breed or mix of breeds?

    • wildewmn says:

      Hi Suzanne, that’s my boy Bodhi. 🙂 He’s a shelter rescue, but we believe he’s mostly malamute/German Shepherd.

  14. I’m sorry, I normally like many of your posts, but I guess I prefer to take an ethical stand on what is or is not acceptable behavior toward dogs in my, or any, trainer’s care. The lay public, especially, have the right to know exactly what will happen to their dogs if the dogs get it right or get it wrong during the training process, and the rather disingenuous practice of letting the client feel a tingle without letting them also feel the *highest* intensity of shock the trainer is willing to use on a dog is actually less of an affront to me than is all the mantra of kumbaya that we have extended to those who still practice any form of fear-inducing training. We don’t have to be nasty to anyone to tell them that we do things differently. No wonder we get ignored and mocked as cookie tossers and tree huggers. We’re basically impotent in our silence.

    • wildewmn says:

      It’s interesting that this blog post has incited such an uproar in certain circles, and how a blog about tolerance toward *other people* –not training methods, but *people*–has turned into some very nasty rants on private FB groups and public comments about my not taking a strong enough stand. Anyone who has been to my seminars, read my books or blogs, or knows me personally knows I do not use or advocate shock collars. They also have heard/read me speak out about them for the last 20 years. “Impotent in our silence”? Does the phrase, “Electricity has no place in dog training” sound familiar? Perhaps you’ve missed the 100-something times I’ve said it in public, in the places I’ve gone out of my way to travel to in order to spread education. The seminars mentioned were about behavior, and the subject of tools simply did not come up when discussing, for example, separation anxiety. I think the point may have been missed that the blog was about the fact that regardless of what tools someone uses, I was glad they attended my seminar to learn. In the end, more dogs will be helped. Does that mean I am not steadfast in my beliefs, that I don’t continue to spread those beliefs, speak out against certain tools, and advocate for humane treatment of dogs? Not in the least. It means that I am mature enough to see the big picture. I completely agree that “we don’t have to be nasty to anyone to tell them that we do things differently.” And if others are disappointed that I do not ban those who use certain tools from my seminars, or that I am willing to have civil conversations with them, so be it.

      • philospher77 says:

        How in the world do we think people are going to learn about different training methods if we ban them from seminars where they can learn about them??? I’m not a trainer, but do use positive reinforcement training. And I will admit that I have watched some videos about “other” training methods, just so that I could be better informed. Having done so, I haven’t changed my mind on the benefit of positive reinforcement training. One would hope that allowing “those trainers” to see new techniques might cause them to try them out and hopefully at least expand the techniques that they use.

  15. Adam Gibson says:

    Wonderfully written blog. I couldn’t agree more. Let’s focus our efforts more on helping dogs, than pointing fingers. As someone who attended the seminar that you mentioned I really appreciate that you were able to focus on the topics at hand.

  16. vkamper says:

    I was there and learned some interesting and valuable things. Thanks Nicole — I enjoyed it and appreciate your willingness to share your knowledge with us

  17. Maria says:

    If one doesn’t allow those with different tools/methods into their class/seminar, how does one expect a person to learn another way? Great article promoting being inclusive.

  18. I’m confused by your response to them. You don’t care? Are you assuming you know their motives for asking? It sounds like you think you were asked because they wanted you to single these people out and/or judge them. Even if that is what they were after, addressing abusive methods is still worth talking about.

    I can see myself asking the same thing and it wouldn’t be to bash anyone. It’d be because I would hope abusive methods would be addressed especially if I knew there were people in the audience using those methods for whatever their reasons.

    I’m further confused by you saying you’re not bothered that other people use different methods? What? This contradicts other posts by you like when you speak about Cesar Milan and alpha dominance training. But it also doesn’t make sense b/c if it hurts the dogs then why wouldn’t you be bothered.

    Of course we shouldn’t spend our time stroking our egos and being jerk offs to people especially if we’re trying to help dogs but using these two examples of how to be inclusive just doesn’t make sense to me.

    Have I misunderstood you?

    • wildewmn says:

      Hi Alexandra,
      Most people realized from the post that when I said my response amounted to “I don’t know and I don’t care,” it meant I didn’t mind that there were people with methods other than my own attending. And yes, the way it was stated was as you said, in a way that suggested they wanted these people to be singled out and perhaps even booted out. I appreciate that if you asked the question it wouldn’t be to bash anyone. To answer your further confusion, I can only say that you are picking my words apart in a way that suggests something other than having an issue with reading comprehension. If you really have to question whether I would be bothered by someone hurting dogs, you are clearly missing a lot. So yes, in short, you have completely misunderstood, and frankly, I do not feel the need to defend myself.

  19. sal says:

    Nicole, you are my hero. Bringing trainers together instead of
    widening the divide is a brave and heroic act. I long for the day when bashers stop bashing. I’m sure there is a training technique out there to accomplish this.

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